(Good morning, Thor. did you have a nice dream?
No, I dreamt you fell and I could not catch you.)
Stark had jokingly dubbed them the "Avengers", for they dreamed to avenge people who had lost something to the world of dreaming. Repairing Inception, or at least seeking recompense. A noble cause and Thor is glad to be a part of it. But he has an ulterior motive.
This team is good, Thor observes. Tony Stark is well informed for a tourist; Steve Rogers is an excellent architect. Natasha Romanov is an expert pointwoman and Bruce Banner is a highly recommended chemist. Clint Barton is a better forger than Thor expected.
Except, in his mind, Thor hears a silky voice full of smug laughter; I could do better than all of them. Could I not, Brother?
A brother too clever for his own good and a father who had secrets not buried deep enough.
This team takes dangerous jobs. Levels down. Deep. Deeper and deeper until they find what they want. Danger is good. Thor wants danger, because the more levels he visits the more he can search the dreamworld for what he has lost. Thor must search, because Loki had long ago learned to traverse through the shadowed spaces and move from dream to dream. Thor hopes that if Loki runs and he searches, they will meet somewhere in between.
Level one is Midgard. Level nine is Vanaheim. The worlds of dreamers curled like an ouroborus with Midgard at the apex of its tongue. Level eight is Asgard, Level two is Jotunheim, levels three through seven are the names of worlds that Thor does not recall (because he used to have someone who remembered for him).
In Midgard, Thor is thirty. In Asgard, he is a hundred, thousand, times more.
“Did you know, Thor,”Loki says, as he warps a piece of metal into a smooth round sphere, Thor can see his distorted reflection looking back at him, “Did you know that Midgardians believe the dreamworld to be linear. A neat line of worlds,” Loki smiles, spinning the globe in the air above his hand, “But they’re not, the worlds wrap and twist. Layer on layer. Like a great serpent suffocating the world as it chews its own tail with Midgard in the center”
The outer shell of the sphere breaks off.
“Alfheim.” Another shell falls to the ground, the light chiming break of glass shattering.
“Asgard,” Loki whispers, almost a hiss.
“The worlds of earth,” and the surface cracks like a three layered egg shell revealing a child, “Vanaheim, Midgard, Jotunheim.”
“And then the underworld, what the Midgardians call Limbo,” Loki says, the worlds below the earth, the underworld, “Svartalheim, Hel, and Niflheim.”
Stark knows, Thor is sure. The man is no pointman, but he does his research. No, Thor does not tell of the dream dens. The gold-gilt gates, elaborate entryways to towering mansions full of dreamers; the gleaming wrought metal coiling and turning, like penrose stairs or an unending circle. They claim the dreams as their own.
All the worlds above and between.
Clint is swearing profusely; face white as he grips his thigh with both hands, compressing the wound.
Bruce looks up at the rest of his team, worry creasing his brows, as he presses his hands above Clint’s, trying to increase the pressure. But not even their combined efforts are able to stop the blood from seeping through their fingers and dripping to the floor.
A figure resolves from shadow, a murky shadow slowly coalescing until defined features begin to appear; Dark hair and glinting green eyes.
"Hello, Thor," Loki says. He smiles, sharp and cutting.
Loki. Partner; Forger, Chemist, Architect, Pointman, Dreamwalker. Brother.
Thor knows. This is Loki. It cannot be anyone else, because Thor's projections are static and a shadow of the brilliance that made up his little brother. His Loki's smiles are too soft or too hard, and in his dreams, Thor sees his brother unchanged or worse. Sometimes he has nightmares, Loki lost to the realm of dreams, scattered in pieces, lost.
So that's how Thor knows; because this Loki is calm. His green eyes sharp, hair longer, and moved in waves away from his face. This Loki looks older. In Thor's dreams, Loki has always stayed the same little brother he lost or Loki is never there at all.
Or the pale wane figure that lies motionless on a bed.
He feels the absence like a lost limb.
Loki ignores the team and looks down at Obadiah Stane, lying prone on the ground, a needle and PASIV lying quiescent beside him. He nudges him with his toe, “It seems we are after the same thing, Thor.”
"Brother," Thor says heavily.
“Thor, buddy,” Tony says, “Want to fill us in? Because I’m pretty sure I heard you call him brother. Is that what brothers do? I mean, I wouldn’t know. Single child here. But are siblings supposed to try and vivisect each other,” He snapped his fingers, “or, throw their brother’s friend out a window? Steve? Back me up?”
"He's been following us," Steve says, eyes wary and he glances at Loki's hand; flecks of Clint's blood still smeared on the tips, "Thor, who is he?"
"My brother. He fell and I have been searching for him."
"A futile quest, Thor. I am not going back," Loki says as he kneels by Obadiah's side, "I like it here," he raises his eyes and glances at the team. Thor tenses, he knows that look, "and there are too many of you."
In a blink Loki is besides Tony, hand holding a glinting round metal object that glows a bright effervescent blue, "One down," Loki hisses as Tony collapses.
"As for the rest of you..."
Whatever else Loki is about to say is drowned by the roar of the crowd, a descending multitude of projections crashing down upon them like a wave of destructive fury. Through the screaming clashes behind him, the ringing of steel and the loud reverberating shots of guns, Thor still has his sight trained upon his brother.
Loki flits away like a shadow, a look in his eye daring Thor to follow. There is no time for apologies, and Thor hopes his teammates (friends?) will understand. Thor follows, because Loki is within his reach if only Thor could reach out and touch him. It's agonizing, the brush of fabric against his fingertips, the echoes of laughter reaching back to him. It is as though Loki is there just beyond sight, beyond touch and hearing, around a corner; a flicker in the corner of his eye. Thor fears he will never reach him.
Then they are alone.
"Let me go, Thor," Loki says.
"I cannot. You are my brother, Loki." Thor claims
"I am not your brother!" Loki lashes out, "I was never your brother."
"You will always be my brother,"
The lines around Loki's eyes tighten, and perhaps it is only in Thor's hopeful wishes, but he appears to soften; his tone less biting.
"You are a fool," Loki says.
"Come home," Thor implores, "Father regrets and Mother sits by your bed."
"And you?" Loki asks.
"I fell into dreams to find you, Brother. I will cross the levels and into Hel if I must. Is that not enough for you? Loki. Brother. Return home with me."
This level is city. Asphalt beneath his feet and cars rushing on the street. But there's water in his eyes (it's raining in the city), salt drying in his hair (just sweat, sticking his hair to the nape of his neck). All Thor can hear are the rush of the waves and hiss of the tide as sand is piled up upon the shore with each coming sweep of water (cars running by, the hiss of engines and exhaust filling the streets).
The water laps at Loki's feet (is there someone standing in front of him?), dampening the fabric of his trousers, the water soaking into the material and reaching upwards like ivy creeping up to tangle in the tall limbs of a tree. Fear spreads, cold as frost spreading across the ground, through Thor's chest, and his heart stutters in his chest.
(The street is empty. He stands alone)
"Please," Thor whispers.
A deep thrum begins to beat in his mind, a rhythmic drum like hum that coils through his ears and weighs his heart with dread. The world begins to lose color. Life begins to bleach out around him and the world seems greyer.
The city begins to fade; Thor closes his eyes in despair. The water mingles with the salt on his face and his tears taste of loss. A warm palm presses against his cheek, long tapered fingers curling into the hair of his temple.
The last thing Thor sees is Loki's smile.
See you soon, Brother.
Thor wakes up. Eyes blinking grit (sand) from his eyes, from being closed for so long, and hearing the long exhaling hiss of the PASIV as it disengages (no, it's waves receding from the shore).
He doesn't touch his totem. Instead, Thor stares at the phone by his side.
And waits for it to ring.
(Laughter. and that is why, brother, you leave the dreaming to me)